Appropriating the Literature: Alcohol Industry Actors' Interventions in Scientific Journals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One research group has recently published three articles on the ways in which alcohol companies and industry social aspects organizations (SAOs) communicate with the public. These articles show how the information produced by the alcohol industry works to produce doubt and uncertainty. Replies from SAOs were published in the respective scientific journals. This article examines these “moments of controversy,” asking in what ways, on which grounds, do the SAOs contest the claims made about them?

Three moments of controversy were examined, prompted by articles on SAO information on cancer, on use of Twitter, and on pregnancy and fertility. The articles (n = 3), the responses from the SAOs (n = 8), and the replies by authors Petticrew and colleagues (n = 4), were analyzed, identifying the rhetorical repertoires at work.

The responses by SAOs use two main strategies: 1. Posing narrow questions of accuracy rather than engaging with the overall findings of the articles on the context and framing of information; and 2. Making normative claims about what it is to do good science, suggesting that the articles and their findings are not. The second strategy questions the very legitimacy of research examining SAOs. The credibility of being published in the scientific literature affords the responses themselves a rhetorical function, a resource for later use to signal doubt and uncertainty.

The SAO interventions in the scientific literature generate controversies. Furthermore, the published traces they leave in the scientific literature enhance SAOs’ ability to make credible claims that the original findings were controversial.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-601
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of studies on alcohol and drugs
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2021

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© 2021, The Author(s).

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